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ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATIONS, TRIGONOMETRICAL OPERATIONS, AND

books


ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATIONS, TRIGONOMETRICAL OPERATIONS, AND

BAROMETRICAL MEASUREMENTS MADE DURING THE COURSE OF A JOURNEY TO

THE EQUINOCTIAL REGIONS OF THE NEW CONTINENT, FROM 1799 TO 1804.



This work, to which are added historical researches on the position

of several points important to navigators, contains, first, the

original observations which I made from the twelfth degree of

southern to the forty-first degree of northern latitude; the

transits of the sun and stars over the meridian; distances of the

moon from the sun and the stars; occultations of the satellites;

eclipses of the sun and moon; transits of Mercury over the disc of

the sun; azimuths; circum-meridian altitudes of the moon, to

determine the longitude by the differences of declination;

researches on the relative intensity of the light of the austral

stars; geodesical measures, etc. Secondly, a treatise on the

astronomical refractions in the torrid zone, considered as the

effect of the decrement of caloric in the strata of the air;

thirdly, the barometric measurement of the Cordillera of the Andes,

of Mexico, of the province of Venezuela, of the kingdom of Quito,

and of New Grenada; followed by geological observations, and

containing the indication of four hundred and fifty-three heights,

calculated according to the method of M. Laplace, and the new

co-efficient of M. Ramond; fourthly, a table of near seven hundred

geographical positions on the New Continent; two hundred and

thirty-five of which have been determined by my own observations,

according to the three co-ordinates of longitude, latitude, and

height.

1.I.2. EQUINOCTIAL PLANTS COLLECTED IN MEXICO, IN THE ISLAND OF

CUBA, IN THE PROVINCES OF CARACAS, CUMANA, AND BARCELONA, ON THE

ANDES OF NEW GRENADA, QUITO, AND PERU, AND ON THE BANKS OF THE RIO

NEGRO, THE ORINOCO, AND THE RIVER AMAZON.

M. Bonpland has in this work given figures of more than forty new

genera of plants of the torrid zone, classed according to their

natural families. The methodi 555m123f cal descriptions of the species are

both in French and Latin, and are accompanied by observations on

the medicinal properties of the plants, their use in the arts, and

the climate of the countries in which they are found.

1.I.3. MONOGRAPHY OF THE MELASTOMA, RHEXIA, AND OTHER GENERA OF

THIS ORDER OF PLANTS.

Comprising upwards of a hundred and fifty species of melastomaceae,

which we collected during the course of our expeditions, and which

form one of the most beautiful ornaments of tropical vegetation. M.

Bonpland has added the plants of the same family, which, among many

other rich stores of natural history, M. Richard collected in his

interesting expedition to the Antilles and French Guiana, and the

descriptions of which he has communicated to us.

1.I.4. ESSAY ON THE GEOGRAPHY OF PLANTS, ACCOMPANIED BY A PHYSICAL

TABLE OF THE EQUINOCTIAL REGIONS, FOUNDED ON MEASURES TAKEN FROM

THE TENTH DEGREE OF NORTHERN TO THE TENTH DEGREE OF SOUTHERN

LATITUDE.

I have endeavoured to collect in one point of view the whole of the

physical phenomena of that part of the New Continent comprised

within the limits of the torrid zone from the level of the Pacific

to the highest summit of the Andes; namely, the vegetation, the

animals, the geological relations, the cultivation of the soil, the

temperature of the air, the limit of perpetual snow, the chemical

constitution of the atmosphere, its electrical intensity, its

barometrical pressure, the decrement of gravitation, the intensity

of the azure colour of the sky, the diminution of light during its

passage through the successive strata of the air, the horizontal

refractions, and the heat of boiling water at different heights.

Fourteen scales, disposed side by side with a profile of the Andes,

indicate the modifications to which these phenomena are subject

from the influence of the elevation of the soil above the level of

the sea. Each group of plants is placed at the height which nature

has assigned to it, and we may follow the prodigious variety of

their forms from the region of the palms and arborescent ferns to

those of the johannesia (chuquiraga, Juss.), the gramineous plants,

and lichens. These regions form the natural divisions of the

vegetable empire; and as perpetual snow is found in each climate at

a determinate height, so, in like manner, the febrifuge species of

the quinquina (cinchona) have their fixed limits, which I have

marked in the botanical chart belonging to this essay.

1.I.5. OBSERVATIONS ON ZOOLOGY AND COMPARATIVE ANATOMY.

I have comprised in this work the history of the condor;

experiments on the electrical action of the gymnotus; a treatise on

the larynx of the crocodiles, the quadrumani, and birds of the

tropics; the description of several new species of reptiles,

fishes, birds, monkeys, and other mammalia but little known. M.

Cuvier has enriched this work with a very comprehensive treatise on

the axolotl of the lake of Mexico, and on the genera of the Protei.

That naturalist has also recognized two new species of mastodons

and an elephant among the fossil bones of quadrupeds which we

brought from North and South America. For the description of the

insects collected by M. Bonpland we are indebted to M. Latreille,

whose labours have so much contributed to the progress of

entomology in our times. The second volume of this work contains

figures of the Mexican, Peruvian, and Aturian skulls, which we have

deposited in the Museum of Natural History at Paris, and respecting

which Blumenbach has published observations in the 'Decas quinta

Craniorum diversarum gentium.'

1.I.6. POLITICAL ESSAY ON THE KINGDOM OF NEW SPAIN, WITH A PHYSICAL

AND GEOGRAPHICAL ATLAS, FOUNDED ON ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATIONS AND



TRIGONOMETRICAL AND BAROMETRICAL MEASUREMENTS.

This work, based on numerous official memoirs, presents, in six

divisions, considerations on the extent and natural appearance of

Mexico, on the population, on the manners of the inhabitants, their

ancient civilization, and the political division of their

territory. It embraces also the agriculture, the mineral riches,

the manufactures, the commerce, the finances, and the military

defence of that vast country. In treating these different subjects

I have endeavoured to consider them under a general point of view;

I have drawn a parallel not only between New Spain, the other

Spanish colonies, and the United States of North America, but also

between New Spain and the possessions of the English in Asia; I

have compared the agriculture of the countries situated in the

torrid zone with that of the temperate climates; and I have

examined the quantity of colonial produce necessary to Europe in

the present state of civilization. In tracing the geological

description of the richest mining districts in Mexico, I have, in

short, given a statement of the mineral produce, the population,

the imports and exports of the whole of Spanish America. I have

examined several questions which, for want of precise data, had not

hitherto been treated with the attention they demand, such as the

influx and reflux of metals, their progressive accumulation in

Europe and Asia, and the quantity of gold and silver which, since

the discovery of America down to our own times, the Old World has

received from the New. The geographical introduction at the

beginning of this work contains the analysis of the materials which

have been employed in the construction of the Mexican Atlas.

1.I.7. VIEWS OF THE CORDILLERAS, AND MONUMENTS OF THE INDIGENOUS

NATIONS OF THE NEW CONTINENT.* (*Atlas Pittoresque, ou Vues des

Cordilleres, 1 volume folio, with 69 plates, part of which are

coloured, accompanied by explanatory treatises. This work may be

considered as the Atlas to the historical narrative of the travels.)

This work is intended to represent a few of the grand scenes which

nature presents in the lofty chain of the Andes, and at the same

time to throw some light on the ancient civilization of the

Americans, through the study of their monuments of architecture,

their hieroglyphics, their religious rites, and their astrological

reveries. I have given in this work a description of the teocalli,

or Mexican pyramids, and have compared their structure with that of

the temple of Belus. I have described the arabesques which cover

the ruins of Mitla, the idols in basalt ornamented with the

calantica of the heads of Isis; and also a considerable number of

symbolical paintings, representing the serpent-woman (the Mexican

Eve), the deluge of Coxcox, and the first migrations of the natives

of the Aztec race. I have endeavoured to prove the striking

analogies existing between the calendar of the Toltecs and the

catasterisms of their zodiac, and the division of time of the

people of Tartary and Thibet, as well as the Mexican traditions on

the four regenerations of the globe, the pralayas of the Hindoos,

and the four ages of Hesiod. In this work I have also included (in

addition to the hieroglyphical paintings I brought to Europe),

fragments of all the Aztec manuscripts, collected in Rome, Veletri,

Vienna, and Dresden, and one of which reminds us, by its lineary

symbols, of the kouas of the Chinese. Together with the rude

monuments of the aborigines of America, this volume contains

picturesque views of the mountainous countries which those people

inhabited; for example, the cataract of Tequendama, Chimborazo, the

volcano of Jorullo and Cayambe, the pyramidal summit of which,

covered with eternal ice, is situated directly under the

equinoctial line. In every zone the configuration of the ground,

the physiognomy of the plants, and the aspect of lovely or wild

scenery, have great influence on the progress of the arts, and on

the style which distinguishes their productions. This influence is

so much the more perceptible in proportion as man is farther

removed from civilization.

I could have added to this work researches on the character of

languages, which are the most durable monuments of nations. I have

collected a number of materials on the languages of America, of

which MM. Frederic Schlegel and Vater have made use; the former in

his Considerations on the Hindoos, the latter in his Continuation

of the Mithridates of Adelung, in the Ethnographical Magazine, and

in his Inquiries into the Population of the New Continent. These

materials are now in the hands of my brother, William von Humboldt,

who, during his travels in Spain, and a long abode at Rome, formed

the richest collection of American vocabularies in existence. His

extensive knowledge of the ancient and modern languages has enabled

him to trace some curious analogies in relation to this subject, so

important to the philosophical study of the history of man. A part

of his labours will find a place in this narrative.

Of the different works which I have here enumerated, the second and

third were composed by M. Bonpland, from the observations which he

made in a botanical journal. This journal contains more than four

thousand methodical descriptions of equinoctial plants, a ninth

part only of which have been made by me. They appear in a separate

publication, under the title of Nova Genera et Species Plantariem.

In this work will be found, not only the new species we collected,

which, after a careful examination by one of the first botanists of

the age, Professor Willdenouw, are computed to amount to fourteen

or fifteen hundred, but also the interesting observations made by

M. Bonpland on plants hitherto imperfectly described. The plates of

this work are all engraved according to the method followed by M.



Labillardiere, in the Specimen Planterum Novae Hollandiae, a work

remarkable for profound research and clearness of arrangement.

After having distributed into separate works all that belongs to

astronomy, botany, zoology, the political description of New Spain,

and the history of the ancient civilization of certain nations of

the New Continent, there still remained many general results and

local descriptions, which I might have collected into separate

treatises. I had, during my journey, prepared papers on the races

of men in South America; on the Missions of the Orinoco; on the

obstacles to the progress of society in the torrid zone arising

from the climate and the strength of vegetation; on the character

of the landscape in the Cordilleras of the Andes compared with that

of the Alps in Switzerland; on the analogies between the rocks of

the two hemispheres; on the physical constitution of the air in the

equinoctial regions, etc. I had left Europe with the firm intention

of not writing what is usually called the historical narrative of a

journey, but to publish the fruit of my inquiries in works merely

descriptive; and I had arranged the facts, not in the order in

which they successively presented themselves, but according to the

relation they bore to each other. Amidst the overwhelming majesty

of Nature, and the stupendous objects she presents at every step,

the traveller is little disposed to record in his journal matters

which relate only to himself, and the ordinary details of life.

I composed a very brief itinerary during the course of my

excursions on the rivers of South America, and in my long journeys

by land. I regularly described (and almost always on the spot) the

visits I made to the summits of volcanoes, or mountains remarkable

for their height; but the entries in my journal were interrupted

whenever I resided in a town, or when other occupations prevented

me from continuing a work which I considered as having only a

secondary interest. Whenever I wrote in my journal, I had no other

motive than the preservation of some of those fugitive ideas which

present themselves to a naturalist, whose life is almost wholly

passed in the open air. I wished to make a temporary collection of

such facts as I had not then leisure to class, and note down the

first impressions, whether agreeable or painful, which I received

from nature or from man. Far from thinking at the time that those

pages thus hurriedly written would form the basis of an extensive

work to be offered to the public, it appeared to me, that my

journal, though it might furnish certain data useful to science,

would present very few of those incidents, the recital of which

constitutes the principal charm of an itinerary.

The difficulties I have experienced since my return, in the

composition of a considerable number of treatises, for the purpose

of making known certain classes of phenomena, insensibly overcame

my repugnance to write the narrative of my journey. In undertaking

this task, I have been guided by the advice of many estimable

persons, who honour me with their friendship. I also perceived that

such a preference is given to this sort of composition, that

scientific men, after having presented in an isolated form the

account of their researches on the productions, the manners, and

the political state of the countries through which they have

passed, imagine that they have not fulfilled their engagements with

the public, till they have written their itinerary.

An historical narrative embraces two very distinct objects; the

greater or the less important events connected with the purpose of

the traveller, and the observations he has made during his journey.

The unity of composition also, which distinguishes good works from

those on an ill-constructed plan, can be strictly observed only

when the traveller describes what has passed under his own eye; and

when his principal attention has been fixed less on scientific

observations than on the manners of different people and the great

phenomena of nature. Now, the most faithful picture of manners is

that which best displays the relations of men towards each other.

The character of savage or civilized life is portrayed either in

the obstacles a traveller meets with, or in the sensations he

feels. It is the traveller himself whom we continually desire to

see in contact with the objects which surround him; and his

narration interests us the more, when a local tint is diffused over

the description of a country and its inhabitants. Such is the

source of the interest excited by the history of those early

navigators, who, impelled by intrepidity rather than by science,

struggled against the elements in their search for the discovery of

a new world. Such is the irresistible charm attached to the fate of

that enterprising traveller (Mungo Park.), who, full of enthusiasm

and energy, penetrated alone into the centre of Africa, to discover

amidst barbarous nations the traces of ancient civilization.

In proportion as travels have been undertaken by persons whose

views have been directed to researches into descriptive natural

history, geography, or political economy, itineraries have partly

lost that unity of composition, and that simplicity which

characterized those of former ages. It is now become scarcely

possible to connect so many different materials with the detail of

other events; and that part of a traveller's narrative which we may

call dramatic gives way to dissertations merely descriptive. The

numerous class of readers who prefer agreeable amusement to solid

instruction, have not gained by the exchange; and I am afraid that

the temptation will not be great to follow the course of travellers

who are incumbered with scientific instruments and collections.

To give greater variety to my work, I have often interrupted the

historical narrative by descriptions. I first represent phenomena

in the order in which they appeared; and I afterwards consider them

in the whole of their individual relations. This mode has been

successfully followed in the journey of M. de Saussure, whose most

valuable work has contributed more than any other to the



advancement of science. Often, amidst dry discussions on

meteorology, it contains many charming descriptions; such as those

of the modes of life of the inhabitants of the mountains, the

dangers of hunting the chamois, and the sensations felt on the

summit of the higher Alps.

There are details of ordinary life which it may be useful to note

in an itinerary, because they serve for the guidance of those who

afterwards journey through the same countries. I have preserved a

few, but have suppressed the greater part of those personal

incidents which present no particular interest, and which can be

rendered amusing only by the perfection of style.

With respect to the country which has been the object of my

investigations, I am fully sensible of the great advantages enjoyed

by persons who travel in Greece, Egypt, the banks of the Euphrates,

and the islands of the Pacific, in comparison with those who

traverse the continent of America. In the Old World, nations and

the distinctions of their civilization form the principal points in

the picture; in the New World, man and his productions almost

disappear amidst the stupendous display of wild and gigantic

nature. The human race in the New World presents only a few

remnants of indigenous hordes, slightly advanced in civilization;

or it exhibits merely the uniformity of manners and institutions

transplanted by European colonists to foreign shores. Information

which relates to the history of our species, to the various forms

of government, to monuments of art, to places full of great

remembrances, affect us far more than descriptions of those vast

solitudes which seem destined only for the development of vegetable

life, and to be the domain of wild animals. The savages of America,

who have been the objects of so many systematic reveries, and on

whom M. Volney has lately published some accurate and intelligent

observations, inspire less interest since celebrated navigators

have made known to us the inhabitants of the South Sea islands, in

whose character we find a striking mixture of perversity and

meekness. The state of half-civilization existing among those

islanders gives a peculiar charm to the description of their

manners. A king, followed by a numerous suite, presents the fruits

of his orchard; or a funeral is performed amidst the shade of the

lofty forest. Such pictures, no doubt, have more attraction than

those which pourtray the solemn gravity of the inhabitant of the

banks of the Missouri or the Maranon.

America offers an ample field for the labours of the naturalist. On

no other part of the globe is he called upon more powerfully by

nature to raise himself to general ideas on the cause of phenomena

and their mutual connection. To say nothing of that luxuriance of

vegetation, that eternal spring of organic life, those climates

varying by stages as we climb the flanks of the Cordilleras, and

those majestic rivers which a celebrated writer (M. Chateaubriand.)

has described with such graceful accuracy, the resources which the

New World affords for the study of geology and natural philosophy

in general have been long since acknowledged. Happy the traveller

who may cherish the hope that he has availed himself of the

advantages of his position, and that he has added some new facts to

the mass of those previously acquired!

Since I left America, one of those great revolutions, which at

certain periods agitate the human race, has broken out in the

Spanish colonies, and seems to prepare new destinies for a

population of fourteen millions of inhabitants, spreading from the

southern to the northern hemisphere, from the shores of the Rio de

la Plata and Chile to the remotest part of Mexico. Deep

resentments, excited by colonial legislation, and fostered by

mistrustful policy, have stained with blood regions which had

enjoyed, for the space of nearly three centuries, what I will not

call happiness but uninterrupted peace. At Quito several of the

most virtuous and enlightened citizens have perished, victims of

devotion to their country. While I am giving the description of

regions, the remembrance of which is so dear to me, I continually

light on places which recall to my mind the loss of a friend.

When we reflect on the great political agitations of the New World,

we observe that the Spanish Americans are by no means in so

favourable a position as the inhabitants of the United States; the

latter having been prepared for independence by the long enjoyment

of constitutional liberty. Internal dissensions are chiefly to be

dreaded in regions where civilization is but slightly rooted, and

where, from the influence of climate, forests may soon regain their

empire over cleared lands if their culture be abandoned. It may

also be feared that, during a long series of years, no foreign

traveller will be enabled to traverse all the countries which I

have visited. This circumstance may perhaps add to the interest of

a work which pourtrays the state of the greater part of the Spanish

colonies at the beginning of the 19th century. I even venture to

indulge the hope that this work will be thought worthy of attention

when passions shall be hushed into peace, and when, under the

influence of a new social order, those countries shall have made

rapid progress in public welfare. If then some pages of my book are

snatched from oblivion, the inhabitant of the banks of the Orinoco

and the Atabapo will behold with delight populous cities enriched

by commerce, and fertile fields cultivated by the hands of free

men, on those very spots where, at the time of my travels, I found

only impenetrable forests and inundated lands.





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